Michael Curzon

More Than 220,000 Under-18s in England Have Already Been ‘Jabbed’

As the debate on the vaccination of children against Covid hots up, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) expected to advise that 16 and 17 year-olds should be vaccinated “in the next few days“, it has been revealed that nearly a quarter of a million under-18s in England have been ‘jabbed’ already. The Evening Standard has the story.

Across the nation 223,755 under-18s have received a first dose, according to NHS data to July 25th.

The figures come as it emerged that the offer of a vaccine is expected to be extended to include all 16 and 17 year-olds.

In June, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi announced that a number of under-18s would be eligible for the jab if they had certain health conditions, lived with someone who is immunocompromised, or were approaching their 18th birthday.

He said at the time that the vaccine experts who advise the Government, the JCVI, did not currently recommend that children should be routinely given the jab, but that the matter was being kept under constant review.

However, the PA news agency has learned that some clinics have already begun vaccinating 16 year-olds at walk-up appointments, provided that they attend with their parent or guardian.

NHS data shows that 79,616 children have had both doses.

Worth reading in full.

JCVI Could Recommend Giving 16 and 17 Year-Olds Covid Vaccine “In Days”, Says Nicola Sturgeon

16 and 17 year-olds in the U.K. could soon be called up to get vaccinated against Covid, according to Nicola Sturgeon. The Scottish First Minister suggested that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) could offer new advice “in the next few days” on the vaccination of this younger age group. The Guardian has the story.

Just two weeks after the [JCVI] recommended against routine vaccination of children, the Scottish First Minister revealed that she “hoped” over-16s would get the go-ahead to receive it after all.

Two Government sources confirmed that the JCVI was looking again at widening its recommendation for children over 12. Jabs for this age group are currently limited to those who are clinically vulnerable or live with someone at risk.

Anthony Harnden, a member of the committee, said: “JCVI is in the process of finalising updated advice on the offer of vaccination of children and young people.”

Ministers are believed to have been in favour of older children getting access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, but the JCVI said they should not routinely be available to children who do not have a specific risk factor.

One of the concerns that the scientists raised, linked to the Pfizer jab, was about inflammation around the heart, with the JCVI concluding that the benefits did not outweigh the risk to those who would be receiving the jabs. …

Professor Rowland Kao, a participant in the the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) and an Epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Per capita, older teenagers currently have the highest risk of Covid infection, and vaccinating 16 and 17 year-olds should reduce this.” …

Making a statement to the Scottish parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Sturgeon said she was “hoping” to get the updated advice from the JCVI “over the next day or so”.

During the subsequent question-and-answer session with MSPs, Sturgeon said: “The JCVI are our advisory body so they have to give us the advice they think is right and I respect that. I am hoping it will recommend going further on the vaccination of young people.

“I am particularly concerned if possible to get vaccinations to 16 and 17 year-olds, which is obviously important for those who will be, for example, going to college and university and mingling with older young people who are vaccinated. But we’ll see what that advice brings and we stand ready to implement that as quickly as possible.”

She later said she was hoping and “veering towards expecting” the committee to recommend further vaccination of people in the 12 to 18 year-olds age group, and in particular “hopeful that we will see some updated recommendations in relation, as a priority as a first part of this, for 16 and 17 year-olds”.

Worth reading in full.

Preg-CoV: New Trial to Study Potential Side-Effects of Covid Vaccination on Pregnant Women on Babies

A new clinical trial based in the U.K. will seek to determine the most suitable gap between the first and second Covid vaccine jabs for pregnant women, as well as the potential side effects on their unborn children. Those running the trial hope it will make pregnant women feel more comfortable about getting vaccinated. The Guardian has the story.

Last week, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for England, urged expectant mothers to get vaccinated as soon as possible, with evidence suggesting the Delta variant poses a significantly greater risk to pregnant women than previous forms of the virus.

A clinical trial called Preg-CoV has been launched to help determine the best gap between doses for pregnant women as well as exploring in greater detail potential side-effects and the impact on babies – something the researchers hope will offer reassurance. …

Asma Khalil, Lead Obstetrician for the trial and Professor of Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine at St George’s, said that while the U.K. Covid vaccination programme had been a success, uptake has been low among pregnant women.

According to research in her own hospital, “among pregnant women who’ve given birth between March this year until beginning of July, less than one third – 28% – of women who were eligible according to the guidance actually received [at least one dose of] the Covid vaccine” during pregnancy, said Khalil. …

“Pregnant women are still concerned because pregnant women were not included in initial Covid vaccine trials,” said Khalil.

In the first phase of the Preg-CoV trial, the team hope to recruit 600 pregnant women, aged between 18 and 44, from 13 sites across England.

Two groups of 200 unvaccinated pregnant women at different gestation times will be randomised both with respect to whether they receive a Moderna or Pfizer/Biontech jab and to whether they are given their second dose four to six weeks or at eight-12 weeks after the first dose. 

Participants will not know which Covid jab they are given… while a routine vaccination to protect against whooping cough will also be included in the schedule so that participants are not aware which dosing regime they are following.

A third group of about 100 pregnant women will be given one dose of a Covid jab at 28-34 weeks gestation, with the second dose of the same vaccine given after delivery, while the fourth group of 100 women will already have had their first dose of any Covid jab before or very early in pregnancy and will get the second dose of the same vaccine.

All the women will have follow-up visits and blood tests, and fill in an electronic diary to help the researchers monitor any potential vaccine side-effects. The team will also track outcomes for the babies up to 12 months of age to explore safety and impact on their development. …

“I think there will be some lessons learned from this pandemic,” said Khalil. “And one of them is that we should consider including pregnant woman at a relatively early stage for vaccine trials.”

Worth reading in full.

Ibiza Looking to Put Together Snitch Squad to Report on Lockdown Rule Breakers

Ibizan officials are considering hiring undercover operatives to attend secret parties that break lockdown rules and snitch on the organisers to the authorities. Organisers of illegal parties – who are being blamed for an increase in positive Covid tests – face fines of up to €600,000 (£513,000). The Guardian has the story.

The idea comes as the island, where the renowned nightlife and music scene has long drawn tourists from around the world, seeks to tackle a two-week Covid incidence rate that has soared to 1,814 cases per 100,000 of the population. With most nightclubs shuttered – except for those able to hold outdoor events where patrons are seated at all times – and gatherings in restaurants and bars limited to small groups, officials have blamed illegal parties for the spike in cases.

They have responded with an array of restrictions, from a ban on mixed-household gatherings between 1am and 6am to fines of up to €600,000 (£513,000) for those who organise illegal parties.

Even so, the parties have not stopped. “They’re not only an issue related to public order, which they have always been, but now they pose an obvious risk to people’s health,” a local official, Mariano Juan, told the newspaper Diario de Ibiza. “Police themselves say it’s difficult for them to infiltrate, as they are known to locals. So we have to look outside for help.” …

Local officials are now in talks with a company that is studying how best to put together a team who can help police in detecting these parties, said Juan. “It is not easy as the profile we’re looking for are foreigners between 30 and 40 years old, but we have been working on it for two weeks.”

Nevertheless, he was confident that the initiative would advance quickly. “I have no doubt that it will be up and running this summer… It’s a necessity to safeguard the health situation in Ibiza.” …

The idea has… been heavily criticised by the Socialist party, which leads the regional administration covering Ibiza. A spokesperson, Vicent Torres, called on the island’s officials to put forth “serious proposals that have legal backing” rather than “acting irresponsibly by launching ideas that we cannot agree to”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “I absolutely love this story,” says Guardian reporter Robyn Vinter, apparently welcoming the idea of hiring tourists to spy on each other.

Change to NHS Covid App “Too Little, Too Late”, Say Business Leaders

Fewer people will be told to self-isolate in the coming weeks following an update to the NHS Covid app which means only those who have come into contact with an asymptomatic case in the past 48 hours (rather than the past five days) will be ‘pinged’. But this is only likely to prevent up to one fifth of ‘pings’, according to reports, highlighting that the ‘pingdemic‘ is far from over.

The response to the update from business leaders has been cold. The main impression seems to be that the change is “too little, too late”. A spokesman for the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) think tank says the app – even in its new form – is “designed for a world with no treatments and no vaccines” and so has no place in Britain. MailOnline has more.

U.K. Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said more had to be done, with the fact that fully vaccinated staff still having to self-isolate being a “significant barrier to venues operating viably and moving towards recovery”.

And the ASI said the Government should now consider handing impacted firms a rebate for the “lost business the NHS app has taken out of our productive and otherwise healthy economy”.

Ms Nicholls said: “This intervention from Government is absolutely necessary to prevent a complete loss of summer trading for the hospitality sector following prolonged periods of severely disrupted trading.

“This will help to alleviate some of the pressure currently being experienced by hard-hit businesses, but is not a silver bullet.” …

She added that the industry body’s research found more than 250,000 hospitality workers are being affected by ‘pings’ at any given point by the app.

And a spokesman for the ASI said: “This is exceptionally welcome for firms struggling with employees off – not because they’ve got Covid but because of an app designed for a world with no treatments and no vaccines.

“It comes too little and too late though for so many companies that have lost revenue and taken on debt from reduced service provision and custom due to the app.” …

Although the change to the app is a major move to address the pingdemic, it will apply only in cases where Covid-carriers do not have symptoms – about one third of total infections.

This means hundreds of thousands are still likely to be pinged each week and the self-isolation carnage will continue to wreak havoc until the rules are fully relaxed later this month [but only for those who are fully vaccinated].

Currently when people are pinged by the app they are advised – but not legally obliged – to self-isolate for 10 days.

Trade union Unite said the change in guidance does not go far enough, and repeated its call for the automotive and steel sectors to be exempt from self-isolation rules. …

The Government said fewer people will now be pinged overall but the total number of “high-risk contacts being advised to self-isolate” will stay the same.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “It’s time to embrace Britain’s jab success by scrapping Covid ‘ping’ app NOW,” says the Sun in its main leader today.

“This Is Not the Country That I Grew Up In”: Australian Widow Arrested for Exercising Near Home

Following reports of the Australian army being deployed to ensure citizens are abiding by strict lockdown rules, an elderly Sydney resident has written to the Australian about being arrested for exercising near her home. Police officers interpreted this as an offence because the resident, a widow, was wearing a sign and walking in an area she rarely visited. Her letter, republished below, highlights the lengths to which the Australian authorities are going to snuff out the faintest flickers of protest.

I am a 78 year-old widow who chose to exercise in the Sydney central business district (CBD) on Saturday. I wore a sign saying: “Not happy, Gladys.” I was alone, I am fully vaccinated and I was wearing a mask.

I was stopped by police and asked what I was doing. I said I was exercising within 10km of my home. They told me I was not allowed to wear a sign while exercising. Both they and I were very respectful but I was arrested on the grounds that, as I did not normally exercise in the CBD, and was wearing a sign, I was protesting and not exercising.

This is not the country that I grew up in. And the really sad thing is that there will be so many who have been intimidated into cringing cowardice and who will just say of me: “Stupid old biddy, serves her right for not just being obedient.”

Mary M. Ancich, Birchgrove, Queensland

Unvaccinated Australians Will Be Barred From Major Sporting Events

Australians will soon need to have proof of full vaccination to visit major sporting venues as state premiers prepare the ground for the introduction of vaccine passports. The Premier of New South Wales said in a press conference on Monday: “Any incentives we can provide to encourage people to get vaccinated and stick to the health restrictions, that is our priority.” Mail Australia has the story.

Plans are already underway to make vaccine passports mandatory in New South Wales while a similar approach is being considered in Victoria.

Fans will need to have both Covid jabs to visit a stadium and watch big sporting events like the NRL, AFL, or cricket.

Venues NSW Chairman Tony Shepherd will put forward his proposal to the State Government in the next few weeks and hopes they will be approved by next year. 

“If you choose not to have the jab that is your civil right in a free country but the Delta strain is extremely transmissible and we need to do something to reopen our stadiums,” he told the Daily Telegraph

“The venues will have to say you can’t attend. Simple as that.” …

[Victoria] Premier Daniel Andrews said at a press conference on July 21st that officials would make an “informed discussion” about reopening games to vaccinated residents.

“[The vaccine] will be here September, October, November… then I think we can have an informed discussion and say: ‘Right, we’re at X%, here’s all the benefits that might flow from that’,” he said. 

The Premier said vaccinated fans being able to attend games would be part of a wider attempt to incentivise people to get the jab.

Worth reading in full.

Slowing Vaccine Take-Up Means 170,000 Moderna Doses at Risk of Expiry

The NHS is looking to redistribute thousands of Covid vaccine doses as slowing take-up rates among young Britons, who don’t appear to be moved by petty bribes, could result in doses being thrown away after reaching their expiry dates. The Guardian has the story.

An internal email seen by the Guardian warned of 170,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine at risk of expiry within the next fortnight, as doctors across England have raised alarm at the unpredictability of vaccine take-up among young people meaning more doses will go to waste.

The Government is to unveil a raft of new initiatives to increase vaccine uptake among young people, including discounts on car-hailing companies such as Uber and Bolt, as well as the delivery service Deliveroo.

It is understood the NHS has managed to redistribute 40,000 of the spare Moderna jabs. However, concerns have been raised about the number of jabs wasted as uptake slows among younger people eligible for the Moderna and Pfizer jabs.

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation recommends an interval of eight to 12 weeks between doses, initially as a way to offer more people first doses because of limited supply, but studies have since shown that the larger gap could give longer protection.

One NHS doctor in the north-east, Dr Alison George, said colleagues had been forced to routinely discard Pfizer doses, rather than give second shots early to people who requested them. “We have very high rates of infection here and the local hospital is already under significant pressure with some elective surgery cancelled,” the GP said. …

Beccy Baird, a Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, said it was getting more difficult to predict vaccine uptake.

“Uptake is getting lower as the cohorts get younger and matching the supply of vaccines to demand will get harder as demand becomes less predictable. This is made all the harder as the vaccines have a limited shelf life,” she said. …

“In the early stages of the rollout, you could be confident that wherever vaccines were delivered there would be sufficient demand for them. Now that a majority of adults have been vaccinated, and with uptake getting lower as the cohorts become younger, demand for the vaccine is more unpredictable, making it harder to know exactly where the doses are needed.” …

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now mostly distributed to the under-40s, who cannot receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Those vaccines have a shorter shelf life of up to one month in the fridge, compared with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which can last for up to six months.

Worth reading in full.

One in 10 Pubs and Restaurants Forced to Close Last Month Due to ‘Pingdemic’

Hospitality venues were relying on the easing of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ to make up for their lockdown losses, but they’ve found that one set of restrictions has simply been replaced by another. The Chief Executive of U.K. Hospitality reports that one in 10 pubs and restaurants have been forced to close over the past month because of staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic‘. One in five venues has also had to “significantly adjust their offer or services” to cope with the continued disruption to business. MailOnline has the story.

The ‘pingdemic’ has seen record numbers of people being alerted by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate in recent weeks, including 700,000 for the week to July 21st.

The Government rolled out exemptions for workers it deems to be employed in critical industries, such as those in the food sector, transport and waste collection.

Daily negative test results can enable such workers who have been alerted by the app or called by NHS Test and Trace as Covid contacts to continue working.

Kate Nicholls [of U.K. Hospitality] told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the last month one in 10 of our businesses have had to close their sites and more importantly one in five have had to significantly adjust their offer or services in order to cope with the pandemic.”

She added: “The ‘pingdemic’ has hit at the same time as the reopening, they haven’t had time to rebuild cash reserves and so they are in quite a fragile state and the hit to revenues as a result of the pingdemic is running at about 15 to 20% of revenues for those businesses that are affected.

“So it is a significant suppression just at the point in time when these businesses needed to start recovering from about 16 months worth of closure and restrictions.” …

It comes as desperate councils are offering lorry drivers bonuses of £3,000 in a bid to clear the backlog of bin collections caused by the ‘pingdemic’.

Rubbish has piled up in many areas in recent weeks – with up to 40% of some local authority workforces having to isolate.

Some residents have been told to cut down on the amount of food that they throw out as piles of uncollected waste grow. 

Others have been asked not to put their bins out unless they are full, with collection services in dozens of areas running significantly behind schedule.

Separately, a new report has warned more than 1.1 million jobs remain unfilled as the pingdemic crisis worsens the shortage of workers.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Health Secretary has finally agreed to make the NHS Covid-tracking app less sensitive. Until now, it pinged people who’d been in contact with an infected person at any point during a five-day period before they tested positive; henceforth, that will be reduced to two days. MailOnline has the story.

Tens of Millions of Brits Will Be Offered Pfizer Booster Vaccine This Autumn

Millions of Brits, including the over-50s, people who are vulnerable, and NHS staff, will be offered a Pfizer booster vaccine this Autumn, even if their first two doses were from a different provider. MailOnline has the story.

Extra vaccines would be rolled out in two stages – prioritising those most at risk of Covid, before the programme is extended.

While patients were initially expected to be offered the jab they were originally inoculated with, it is understood all patients will be offered the Pfizer jab as it has proven to be the most effective against the Delta variant.

The Department of Health has yet to confirm the official details of the booster scheme, plans of which were first shared by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in June.

The JCVI is expected to issue its final advice in regards to the booster scheme in the coming months. 

A senior Government source also told the Times that those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine would “be getting an mRNA booster”. …

A U.K. Government-backed study published earlier this year found that mixing and matching Covid vaccines may result in higher protection against the virus.

People who had been vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s jab initially and then received a top-up with Pfizer’s had nine times more antibodies than those who stuck to the U.K. vaccine. …

The Government said analysis has shown that the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective against the Delta variant while the AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalisation after two doses.

A study published this week also showed that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine could offer strong protection against the Delta variant.

Worth reading in full.